Holy Basil Tea

Trader Joe’s has a new tea! I was a little skeptical a month ago when the cashier told me a new “basil” tea would be coming out, but this organic holy basil herbal tea is a winner! The flavor is bitter and spicy, which is somewhat reminiscent of a chai tea. I love that it’s naturally caffeine-free! I’m also excited to try this as an iced tea this summer, maybe with a slice of lemon.

TJs gives a short blurb about the tea on the box. This sparked my curiosity about tulsi tea. I did some research, and here are five fun facts about tulsi tea:

  • The tulsi herb originated in Indian, where it was used for medicinal purposes.
  • Tulsi is Hindu for “the incomparable one.” It is also known as holy basil and is nicknamed the “Queen of Herbs.”
  • Tulsi is an adaptogen, which is a substance that reduces stress and promotes normal physiological functioning.
  • One source cited research that found tulsi reduced stress, sleep problems, forgetfulness, and exhaustion in people and animals. Who knew a tea could do all that?!?
  • Tulsi is also known for having other medicinal benefits such as improving oral health, regulating sugar levels, treating acne, strengthening the immune system, and treating coughs/colds. 

This tea seems to be able to treat everything! After drinking it for a week, I can’t say I’ve personally observed any of these benefits (I still fall asleep while reading in bed at night), but I love the way it tastes! 

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March Reads – 2019

I spent the first half of my spring break sick, curled up on the couch with a stack of books while the rain tapped on my windows. Well, to be honest, there was also a lot of binge watching TV shows, but it was still a great month for reading.

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

by C. S. Lewis

I have read biographies about C. S. Lewis, but I loved hearing his testimony in his own words. Every time I read something by C. S. Lewis, I’m astounded by his intelligence and the way he crafts words into stories. This book was no exception. In this autobiography, Lewis traces how God was sovereignly orchestrating his search for joy throughout his early years to bring him to Christianity. Lewis includes the everyday details about his school days and home life, including descriptions of the people who influenced his thinking over the years.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

by Patti Callahan

I’d been excitedly waiting to read this book since before it was even published. It did not disappoint! This book paired so well with “Surprised by Joy” and “A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War.” Although this is a fictional telling of the romance between C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman, it seemed to be built on a lot of history and fact. The story is told from Joy’s perspective and shows the journey she went on from being an admirer of C. S. Lewis’ work to becoming a close friend and confidant to being his devoted wife.

Every Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire

I think the premise for this story is intriguing, but I was left somewhat disappointed by this book. The story takes place at a school for teens who have traveled to other worlds that feel more like home than our world. They are now stuck in our world and dealing with negative repercussions from experiencing the wonder of another world. Horrific deaths begin to take place, and one group of students take it upon themselves to track down the murderer.

I have always loved stories about other worlds and dreamt of finding Narnia, so I was somewhat intrigued by the idea that traveling to another world might not be as wonderful once you return. However, I did not care what happened to any of these characters. They could have all died, and I would have been perfectly fine with that. Granted, I tend to like more character-driven plots, and the length of this book just didn’t lend itself to much of that. I’m still wrestling with whether this book just wasn’t for me or if it was simply poorly executed.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

by John le Carre

I decided to read this book so I could listen along to the discussions about it on the Close Reads podcast. I don’t think I’ve really read a true spy novel before this, and I’m worried that now I have very high standards for all spy novels. I loved this book. I never knew who or what to believe and didn’t fully understand what was happening until the very end. This is the first book I’ve ever ready where I’ve finished it and thought “I need to immediately go back to the beginning and read this again!”

I don’t even know how to give a good synopsis of this book without being confusing or giving away too much. The main character, Leamas, has spent his career as a spy during the cold war, and now he has one last assignment to bring down a German leader. Slowly, Leamas begins to realize things are not quite what he expected. Is the mission spinning wildly out of control or are there unknown factors at play?

If you read this book, I highly recommend listening along to the corresponding episodes and discussions on the Close Reads podcast. I wish I could analyze and think about literature the way they do!

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

I loved rereading this classic tale of romance and revolution. I was able to see more foreshadowing the second time through, and I was reminded how much I like the character of Miss Pross. As an added bonus, I got to discuss how this book illustrates the virtue of justice with a great group of ladies at book club. 

How Does Sanctification Work?

by David A. Powlison

This little book gives a brief overview of sanctification and real-life examples of what sanctification looked like for some Christians. The concept that stood out to me the most was Powlison’s statement that “Ministry ‘unbalances’ truth for relevance; theology ‘rebalances’ truth for the sake of comprehension.” I balked at this statement initially. I didn’t like the idea of “unbalancing” truth, but once Powlison unpacked what he meant, it made so much sense! He explains how it is important for us to have a full understanding of theological truth so that we are ready with the one specific “nugget” of truth needed in a given situation. “Unbalancing” truth means that in difficult situations there is typically one especially relevant biblical truth that God will use to speak into our lives to advance our sanctification.

Vinegar Girl

by Anne Tyler

Kate’s father, Dr. Battista, is trying to matchmake her with his research assistant, but not because he has her best interests in mind. His assistant’s visa is about to expire, and Dr. Battista is desperate to keep him in the United States. Kate is busy keeping house for her father while also watching out for her annoying younger sister, and now she has to deal with this awkward stranger who she’s supposed to marry. But maybe this marriage is just the opportunity she needs to break free and start a new chapter in her life.

I’m typically skeptical of retellings, especially modern retellings of classic stories, but I really enjoyed this story! The audiobook was excellent. Anne Tyler did a beautiful job translating Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” to a modern situation. I found the main character relatable, and I loved the humor woven throughout the book.

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February Reads – 2019

Gone with the Wind

by Margaret Mitchell

This classic American novel made a great audiobook because of its length. I enjoyed how Mitchell combined Scarlet’s story with the history of the Civil War and post-Civil War.

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This was the February book for my book club. I enjoyed this book in high school, but the high school me had no idea what was really going on in this book. I thought it was just a tragic romance. Rereading this book made me realize that Fitzgerald had a completely different message to share with his readers. This book points out the sin and depravity in our world. The characters show us that we can get everything we want and still be lacking. A godless world is an empty world. 
If you read this in high school, maybe it’s time for a reread. It’s a quick read but also beautifully written and powerful. I would also recommend listening to the podcast episodes on this book from Close Reads podcast. Listening to literary experts discuss this book was so helpful and interesting. 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

by Gail Honeyman

I devoured this audiobook! This story of Eleanor combines the awkward, humorous, and pain of human life. I thought it was interesting that this book is told from Eleanor’s perspective, yet as the reader there were often times when I had more insight into what was going on than Eleanor. I thought I had the plot of this story figured out, but there was still a surprise twist waiting for me in the end. I found myself thinking “I knew it! Wait, what???” and going back to catch the final piece of the puzzle that surprised me at the end. Also, as a warning to sensitive readers, the trauma, mental illness, and abuse dealt with in this book made me both angry and heartbroken at times.

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Books must look clean

The only criterion I have is that books must look clean, which means that I have to disregard a lot of the potential reading material in the charity shop.  I don’t use the library for the same reason, although obviously, in principle and reality, libraries are life enhancing palaces of wonder.  It’s not you libraries, it’s me, as the popular saying goes.  The thought of books passing through so many unwashed hands – people reading them in the bath, letting their dogs lick them, picking their nose and wiping the results on the pages.  People eating crisps and then reading a few chapters without washing their hands first.  I just can’t.  No, I look for books with one careful owner.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I love old and used books, but I completely agree with Eleanor Oliphant: they have to be clean. This quote reminded me of a used bookstore I visited in Colorado last summer. The yard of the bookstore was littered with “antiques.” Behind the store, there was a foreboding display of tombstones. Perhaps this was where they buried the unsuspecting customers who got hopelessly lost (or worse) in the endless stacks of dirty books that filled the bookstore. A blue light dimly lit the inside of the bookstore, and I began to wonder if it was possible to contract a foot fungus through my shoes as my feet sunk into the mildewy carpet. When I dared to pick up a book, I found the cover and spine dusty and the pages slightly damp. I didn’t see the owner until I was on my way out. A pair of eyes peered silently through a gap in the ceiling high stacks. If someone wanted to write a bookstore murder mystery, that store would be the perfect setting.

But seriously, Eleanor Oliphant put into words exactly how I feel about library books. Libraries are wonderful places, but I will go out of my way to get a nice, clean copy of a book from a known source rather than check the book out from the library.

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Book Club

I have joined a book club this year, which is a new adventure for me. We are using “On Reading Well” by Karen Swallow Prior as a guide. In her book, Prior discusses virtues using 12 books as a backdrop. I’ve always believed it’s important to read a variety of literature from throughout history, but I’ve never been able to articulate WHY that is so important. Prior answers that question more eloquently than I ever could have. So far, I’ve really been enjoying her book. I’m excited to continue this reading challenge and to discuss some great books with some great friends.

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January Reads – 2019

The Boy Who Loved Too Much

by Jennifer Latson

I loved listening to this book. It was one of those audiobooks that made me want to do the dishes or drive across town just so I’d have an excuse to listen to it. The book follows the journey of a mom and her boy who is diagnosed with Williams Syndrome, a lesser known disability compared to autism or Down Syndrome. The author does a wonderful job of alternating between the scientific research and the mom and boy’s story. This is a book I would recommend to teachers, parents with kids who have disabilities, and anyone else who has every interacted with a person with a disability….So basically, everyone could benefit and learn from this book.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling

by Henry Fielding

I am ridiculously excited to be a part of a book club this year. We are reading through the books discussed in Karen Swallow Prior’s book, “On Reading Well.” The book for January was “Tom Jones” which, at 800 pages, is not for the faint of heart. I won’t be recommending it to too many people because of the length, but overall I found this book interesting and comical. Set in the 1700s, this book tells the story of Tom Jones, a young man who shows charity and care to others but lacks prudence when it comes to making life choices. Although it was written over 250 years ago, the themes and topics dealt with in this book are surprisingly relevant for modern readers.

Life Together

by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This book was on my to-be-read list for a while because one of my favorite quotes about serving others comes from this book. There is so much packed into this little book, but I found I didn’t agree with Bonhoeffer on everything. There were still some great truths in this book, but it made me think more critically about what the Bible says is essential in order to have a healthy Christian community and what are traditions or preferences we have developed in the church. 

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War

by Jospeh Loconte

I started and stopped this book several times before sitting down and reading the last half, but it was not because I didn’t enjoy it. I just kept getting distracted by other books that had due dates. In this book, I loved how the author combined the history of WWI, the themes in literature as a whole in the post-war era, and the friendship of C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien. I have a greater understanding and appreciation for the works of Lewis and Tolkien now. Their writings truly went against the grain of their time. In their fantasy stories, they didn’t shy away from the horror of war but embedded a message of hope for those willing to fight for good. 

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Friendship & Forgiveness

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2018 in review

Usually, I barely complete my reading goal for the year and find myself scrambling to finish books in December. This year, audiobooks opened up a whole new world for me, and I was able to surpass my goal. I read a total of 55 books this year. I got out of my reading comfort zone this year by reading more recently published and popular novels. This meant I also abandoned or disliked more books than I typically do, but I enjoyed exploring other authors and figuring out what my reading style really is. As I look back over the books I read this year, here are some of my favorites that stand out to me:

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

Reading People by Anne Bogel

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges

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December Reads – 2018

Is it strange that I’ve been reading so many books about art theft lately? It’s just such an interesting area of true crime that you don’t hear about much.


1. El Deafo by Cece Bell

My students are obsessed with graphic novels, and I find many of those books annoying (sorry, Dog Man). This book is an exception. One of my students requested a copy of it, and I ended up telling him he would have to wait until I finished reading it first. The author tells the story of her own childhood as a student who was deaf. She highlights the challenges of being a student who is deaf or hard of hearing in a truthful and humorous way that all kids can relate to. This was a quick, delightful read.


2. The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel (audiobook)

This book tells the true story of the men who worked during WWII to protect and rescue artwork. These men risked their lives to save the culture of people and nations. At times I had a difficult time focusing on the information because of the many details and length of this book, but overall I really enjoyed it. Also, I watched the movie based on this book and thought it was excellent!


3. Hallelujah: A Journey through Advent with Handel’s Messiah edited by Cindy Rollins

I used this book as a guide through the advent season this year. I loved how the book explained the traditions behind advent. Each day, there were several Bible verses to read which were paired with 3-10 minutes of Handel’s Messiah.


4. Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

The author readily admits that she did not base this story strictly on history. Keeping this in mind, I enjoyed this atmospheric, fictional retelling of how Charles Dickens wrote his beloved “A Christmas Carol.” This was a great light read for the holiday season.


5. The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser

This book took me a long time to finish because I kept getting distracted by other books. I kept coming back to it though and found it interesting to read about Boser’s experiences investigating the Gardner heist, which is the largest unsolved art theft in the world. It’s amazing to me that after all these years none of the art has been recovered and no one has been arrested for the crime despite the numerous theories and possible suspects. This books pairs well with the new podcast “Last Seen,” which also investigates the Gardner heist.


6. The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books by Nancy Guthrie

I started this study in the summer but didn’t finish up the last couple chapters until this month. I really enjoyed this study and how it connected the wisdom books with the gospel and New Testament.


Book I abandoned:

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

The mystery of this story intrigued me, but I found the romance too annoying. I just couldn’t do it.Share on Facebook

November Reads – 2018

I feel like my reading life is typically put on hold this time of year as things get busy with work and the holidays. But don’t worry, things always pick up over Christmas break! One of my favorite things about winter is curling up by a blazing fire with a warm blanket, steaming mug of tea, and a thick book.


1. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore (audiobook)

This is the fascinating, true story of the women who worked painting dials with radium paint during the early 20th century. They would leave work literally glowing from the radium powder. They loved their work and were admired by their peers. It wasn’t until years later that many of them began to suffer aches and painful deaths. Doctors could not give them an accurate diagnosis or find a way to ease their symptoms. If you feel squeamish with oral surgery or bone decay, this books is not for you! I found myself wincing many times as I listened to what these women suffered, but I believe their story of pain and perseverance deserves to be told.

Although I would recommend this book, I would not necessarily recommend the audiobook. The narrator’s voice was annoying at times, especially when I could hear her audibly swallowing between sentences!


2. The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

I highly recommend this book! Bridges does a wonderful job of explaining through scripture the intertwining of God’s work of grace in our lives along with our own responsibility to live holy lives.


3. The Bible (ESV)

My pastor recently challenged our church family to read the Bible in 90 days. I thought this sounded impossible, especially since I’ve struggled to complete reading the Bible in 1 year before. I used the YouVersion Bible app plan for reading the Bible in 90 days and really enjoyed listening to the passages while getting ready in the morning. Reading the whole Bible in such a short time span helped me see some of the themes and big picture. It was a nice change of pace from studying one book in depth.Share on Facebook